Forefeast of the Nativity: The Vulnerable God 


The Orthodox hymns in the days before the Feast of the Nativity draw our attention to the theological truth that the baby born in Mary in Bethlehem is God incarnate!  Here, for example, are two “Lord I Call…” verses from Vespers:




First, note, that the hymns make the Nativity event personal – Christ approaches ‘me’ in His birth into this world. Heaven is being opened to ‘me’ and it is ‘I” who both sees and understands the incarnation. God comes into the world to unite ‘me’ to Himself. The hymns open the door that allows each of us personally to participate in the birth of our Savior.


In modern times there is a great deal of emphasis placed on the human, sentimental images of a child born into poverty and laid in a manger. The Church’s hymns tend not to be so sentimental and are much more awe-struck by and focused on the fact that the Nativity is not merely the story of another poor child born in some rural and remote backwoods place. Rather, what is marveled at, is that this is how God enters into creation to save us. God humbles Himself and instead of coming into the world as a mighty and wealthy king and victorious warrior in all His glory, God comes into our lives in a most humble manner as a helpless baby submitting Himself to human care and allowing Himself to be threatened by the many hostile forces and powers that seem to rule the world. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware comments:

“In an unfallen world the Incarnation of Christ would indeed have sufficed as the perfect expression of God’s outgoing love. But in a fallen world and sinful world his love had to reach out yet further. Because of the tragic presence of sin and evil, the work of man’s restoration was to prove infinitely costly. A sacrificial act of healing was required, a sacrifice such as only a suffering and crucified God could offer.


The Incarnation, it was said, is an act of identification and sharing. God saves us by identifying himself with us, by knowing our human experience from the inside. The Cross signifies, in the most dark and uncompromising manner, that this act of sharing is carried to the utmost limits. God Incarnate enters into all our experience. Jesus Christ our companion shares not only in the fullness of human life but also in the fullness of human death. ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows‘ (Isaiah 53:4) – all our griefs, all our sorrows. ‘The unassumed is unhealed’: but Christ our healer has assumed into himself everything, even death.”  (THE ORTHODOX WAY, p 104)

Forefeast of the Nativity: The Righteous Joseph 




Many Orthodox hymns for feasts take us to the event being commemorated. However, they take us to the event “spiritually”, meaning they want us to see the theological import of the feast even more than the historical events. Just as icons of any feast are not a ‘photograph’ of the event but combine various biblical texts and ideas with the theological meaning of the events, so the hymns of the feasts direct our attention to the ‘big picture’ – the feast’s theological meaning.


Part of the Nativity narrative is Mary’s husband, Joseph, who has to make sense of the news that his betrothed is pregnant with a child that is not his. [Keep in mind, at that time pregnancy was a male planting his seed in the women’s womb, the woman really is just the field in which the seed is sown, so pregnancy is not the sperm fertilizing the egg as the woman doesn’t contribute that much to the pregnancy.  Thus, the idea of a virgin birth almost makes no sense in that worldview -without the male seed there can be no pregnancy. God tells Joseph that Mary’s child will save his people from their sins. Joseph has to process this because he is thinking Mary’s pregnancy is a result of sin, he has to contemplate how this ‘illegitimate’ child conceived in sin can possibly take away the sins of others. Joseph has a lot to think about.] Though God comforts and encourages Joseph, he still has to grow in understanding and acceptance as to what is happening. The above hymn credits Joseph with coming to faith in the incarnation of God. Patristic writers made various efforts to portray Mary and Joseph as being faithful despite encountering the incomprehensible idea of the incarnation of God in their son. For example, St Basil the Great focuses on the Scripture calling Joseph a righteous man and so Basil wants to encourage his flock that everything Joseph did or thought was righteous and not some doubt about Mary’s holiness. Joseph contemplated divorce from Mary but only because he did not want publicly to embarrass her. For Basil, Joseph being righteous means he would have been truthful and would expose Mary’s sin if he actually thought she had sinned. Basil says:


Before they came together, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). It was Joseph who discovered both of these things, that she had conceived and what caused her to conceive, that it was of the Holy Spirit. And so, fearing to be called the husband of such a woman, he resolved to divorce her quietly (Matthew 1:19). For he did not have the stomach to publicize what had happened to her. But being a righteous man, he obtained a revelation of the mysteries. For as he considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying: do not fear to take Mary as your wife (Matthew 1:20). Do not think that he was trying to conceal some sin of hers in the face of absurd conjectures. For he was called a righteous man, and he who is righteous does not conceal transgressions through silence. Do not fear to take Mary as your wife. This shows that neither was he vexed at her nor did he feel loathing for her; rather, it indicates that he feared to take her because she was filled with the Holy Spirit. For that which has been born in her is of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20). And here it is clear that the Lord’s frame did not come into existence as does the ordinary nature of the flesh. For what she was pregnant with was immediately perfect in the flesh, not formed through incremental stages of construction, as is clear from the words themselves. For it did not say: ‘that which has been created,’ but that which has been born. So then, since the flesh was formed from holiness, it was worthy of being united to the divinity of the Only Begotten. (ON FASTING AND FEASTS, pp 32-33)


[Basil’s comments that what was conceived in Mary’s womb was ‘perfect in the flesh’ seems to imply that from the moment of conception Jesus was a perfectly formed human and did not have to grow into one. The ancients had a different understanding of conception than the modern one as they thought that the seed from the father implanted in the woman was a tiny human which only needed to grow in the womb. The mother nourishes the fetus through her blood, but doesn’t contribute to the fetus’s makeup. Part of the miracle of the incarnation for the ancients was that there is no human (male) seed involved – God enters Mary’s womb directly and begins to grow as a human without any contribution of a male (and although they didn’t have this understanding, there would have been no male DNA). God creates from nothing the body that would grow into Jesus just as God created Adam in the beginning. Or, as some fathers saw it, Jesus enters Mary’s womb and creates for Himself His body/house/shelter since he didn’t have a body which ‘normally’ would have come from the father through his father’s seed. Thus they see Jesus as the new Adam.]

Praying for Peace for All Orthodox

Today, the OCA published Metropolitan Tikhon’s Statement on Peace, which includes the following words:

The Most Blessed Tikhon

But as long as, due to human sin, peace continues to elude the world, we nevertheless dedicate ourselves to peace through prayer, self-renewal, and wise words and actions. In particular, on behalf of the Orthodox Church in America, we assure His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy and the suffering Ukrainian Orthodox Church, all Ukrainian Christians and the entire suffering Ukrainian people, of our prayers during this most difficult time.

While his words are welcome, I personally feel disappointed that is as far as he or the Synod of Bishops is willing to go in speaking on the war in Ukraine. Especially as winter settles in Ukraine, the Russians are intentionally attacking civilian targets, especially those related to energy production, a tactic which is aimed at causing as much suffering for civilians as is possible. All this is blessed by the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill who claims the Ukrainians are part of his spiritual family and flock, yet blesses killing them, making him guilty of fratricide, parricide, prolicide and filicide.  Pretty sad for someone who is in a pro-life church. So, Metropolitan Tikhon’s words on peace come up a bit short in my mind and make me think of the words of St James:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17) 


I’d like to see Metropolitan Tikhon and the Synod of Bishops more directly criticize Kirill and the Russian bishops who are blessing the murders and suffering which are being inflicted on Ukrainians. The OCA may want to avoid taking sides in this Russian war against Ukraine, but they still can more forcefully speak truth to power and call sin what is evil especially when blessed by Orthodox bishops.  It is not enough for us to timidly wish peace for the Ukrainians while they are being deprived of food, housing, heat, water and the necessities of life. We absolutely need to pray for peace but there are some actions to be taken that have profit for those in need and so that our faith is not without works and thus dead. And we can find ways to help those who are suffering because of the blessing of Orthodox bishops.

A Pure Heart: Uprooting Vices and Passions 


Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:22-26)


We are to call on the Lord with a pure heart according to the Apostle Paul. Purity of heart is not limited to sexual purity, but for the Apostle includes issues of faith, love, peace and anger. St John Cassian addresses the issue of purity of heart in terms of passions and vices especially that of anger. For St John it is not enough just to outwardly control our anger because we need to root it out of our hearts. God sees into our hearts and knows whether or not we are a peace lover and peacemaker or whether our heart is smoldering with anger even though we manage at times to contain it. Purity of heart means cutting out that anger from our hearts so that we no longer are embroiled in it.

Hence, if we desire to obtain in its entirety that divine prize of which it is said: ‘Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God‘ (Matt 5:8), this must not only be cut off from our actions but must even be uprooted from the depths of our soul. For a wrathful anger that has been checked in speech and that has not manifested itself in deeds is of no value whatsoever if God, from whom the secrets of the heart are not concealed, sees that it exists in the recesses of our breast. For the words of the Gospel command that the roots of our vices be cut off rather than the fruits (Matt 3:10), which will certainly never grow any more once the shoot has been pulled up. And when they have been pulled up not from the surface of our deeds and actions but from the depths of our thoughts, our mind will then be able to abide in utter patience and holiness. (THE INSTITUTES, pp 202-203)


The garden of our heart must be tended with diligence to uproot the weeds (passions, vices) which try to establish themselves there. St Gregory of Nyssa encourages us to purify our hearts and souls:

… the man who purifies the eye of his soul will enjoy an immediate vision of God. . . . It is the same lesson taught by the Word [i. e. Christ] when He said, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you‘ (Luke 17:21).

This teaches us that the man who purifies his heart of every passionate impulse will see the image of the divine nature in his own beauty.

You must then wash away, by a life of virtue, the dirt which has clung to your heart like plaster, and then your divine beauty will once again shine forth (On the Beatitudes, Sermon 6).  (Thomas Hopko, SPIRITUALITY, p 47)


Melchizedek Prefiguring Christ


On the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ, the Orthodox Church honors the memory of the Ancestors of Christ and reads the Genealogy of Christ from Matthew 1:1-25. The Sunday commemorates all the Old Testament saints who were significant in being faithful to God or preparing the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah, including the non-Jewish priest Melchizedek. At Vespers on the Eve of this feast one portion of the three Old Testament lessons read is Genesis 14:18-20 –

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all.


The author of the New Testament’s book, Hebrews, offers an interpretation of the Melchizedek narrative, adding some details and information not in the Old Testament text:

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him; and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest for ever. See how great he is!  (Hebrews 7:12-17)


St Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444AD) comments on the Hebrews’ interpretation (with its comments not found in the Genesis text). Though the Hebrews text does not list an author, by the time of Cyril, many Patristic writers assumed St Paul was the author of Hebrews. Modern scholarship has accepted the older tradition that the author of Hebrews is anonymous rather than a work of St Paul. Cyril writes:

From the interpretation of the names, then, Paul takes hold of what serves to prefigure Christ. He makes it clear also that the manner of priesthood itself shows the same thing, for Melchizedek brought out bread and wine. That Melchizedek, however, was without father and without mother, that is, without a genealogy, and that he had no beginning of days or end of days, the sacred scripture nowhere expressly indicates. One might perhaps then say that the divine Paul has uttered a lie. This is not what we say, not at all, for he is speaking the truth. Rather, the skilled instructor in mysteries holds to a spiritual interpretation, taking this as a figure of the glory of Emmanuel and as an account relating to the very matters of the divine economy. For the inspired scripture reveals to us only the fact that Melchizedek was a priest. It does not identify his descent or the origins of his father or mother. Yet neither does it set a limit to how many years he lived, nor do we find that the kind of succession accompanying his priestly office is revealed. Consequently, the narrative of such things as outlined in figures for us, and this in a way resembles the perpetual nature of Christ that was without beginning, when he is considered as God. (GLAPHYRA ON THE PENTATEUCH Vol 1, p 127)


St Paul uses the Genesis text to glean information which is not explicitly stated in the text. Whether the ideas were original with Paul (fit his theology and point he wanted to make) or whether Paul was using a tradition he was familiar with, I do not know. But Paul takes the fact that the Genesis text gives no genealogy for Melchizedek as a prefiguration of the eternal nature of the Messiah. Paul draws a conclusion from the silence in the text.  It was a very common way of reading the Scriptures (some would say reading into it) but Paul is looking to the Old Testament for signs of the Messiah and sees the Melchizedek narrative as being a bit of a puzzle that lends itself to being a prophecy of Christ.  The genealogy of the main characters in the Old Testament’s is usually given. The fact that no genealogy is offered for Melchizedek gives Paul a door to open for interpretation.  Paul’s method of reading the Old Testament will be common among the early Christian and Patristic writers who are always plumbing the depths of Scripture to see Christ. They saw the Torah as not being so much history and Law as prophecy, preparing the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah.


If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. (John 5:46)

And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)

Holy Prophet Daniel and the Three Holy Youths


Today in the Church we honor the memory of the Holy Prophet Daniel and the Three Holy Youths: Ananias, Azarias and Misael (600 B.C.). Their story is found in the Septuagint version of Daniel 3. The narrative of the Three Holy Youths in the furnace was incredibly popular in the ancient Christian world and through the Middle Ages. You can find a great deal of Western art which portrays their story as it fired the spiritual and artistic imagination (excuse the pun) of Christians in the Middle Ages. There were many varied lessons drawn from the narrative for Christians to consider.


Theodoret of Cyrus (d. 457AD) commenting on Daniel 3:17-18, focused on how the Three Youths surrendered themselves fully to God’s will and trusted in God’s providence which he then encourages us to do the same no matter what circumstances we are in:

Far from serving our Lord for payment, we are motivated by affection and longing, and at the same time prefer the service of our God to everything. Hence, instead of asking for relief from the troubles unconditionally, we embraced the Lord’s planning and providence; and without knowledge of what will be of benefit, we leave the helm to the pilot, no matter what he wishes, understanding clearly that he is able to free us from the threatened evils. Whether he wishes to do so, we do not know; but we leave it to him, wise governor as he is, and accept his verdict, confident that it is in our benefit (Commentary on Daniel 1322-1324).  (HEARING THE SCRIPTURES, p 66)


St John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) had a different focus on the narrative as he thought about the wicked King Nebuchadnezzar and how God did not punish him for trying to execute the three faithful and holy youths but rather by miraculously rescuing the Three Youths tried to bring the king to faith in the one true God. Thus, the story is not just about the faithful youth but is about the merciful God’s effort to bring a pagan king to faith.


What then? Did God visit the apostate, as he deserved to be visited? No! He supplied him with greater tokens of His own power, drawing him back again after so great a display of arrogance to his former condition. And, what is yet more wonderful, that owing to the abundance of the miracles he might not again disbelieve what was done, the subject upon which He wrought the sign was none other than the furnace which the king himself kindled for the children whom he bound and cast therein. Even to extinguish the flame would have been a wonderful and strange thing, but the benign Deity, in order to inspire him with greater fear, and increase his dismay, and undo all his hardness of heart, did what was greater and stranger than this.

[Chrysostom says God could have rescued the Three Youths simply by dousing the flames in the furnace with water. That would have been a great miracle, but people might have concluded it was a natural event which saved the youths. God wanted to give greater inspiration to the king, and so used the king’s own furnace and flames to reveal the holiness of the youth and the power of God.  God knew Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was hardened and God was attempting to open the king’s heart and mind to faith in God. {Note: In the text, “He” (capital “H”) refers to God and “he” (lower case “h”) refers to Nebuchadnezzar.}]


For, permitting the furnace to be kindled to as high a pitch as he desired, He then exhibited His own peculiar powers, not by putting down the devices of His enemies, but by frustrating them when they were set on foot. And, to prevent anyone who saw them survive the flame from supposing that it was a vision, He permitted those who cast them in to be burned, thus proving that the thing seen was really fire; for otherwise it would not have devoured naptha and tow, and fagots and such a large number of bodies; but nothing is stronger than His command; but the nature of all existing things obeys Him who brought them into being out of nothing, which was just what He manifested at that time, for the flame having received perishable bodies, held aloof from them as if they had been imperishable, and restored in safety, with the addition of much luster, the deposit entrusted to it. For like kings from some royal court, even so did those children come forth from the furnace, no one having the patience to look any longer at the king, but all transferring their eyes from him to the strange spectacle, and neither the diadem nor the purple robe, nor any other feature of royal pomp, attracted the multitudes of unbelievers so much as the sight of those faithful ones, who tarried long in the fire, and then came out of it as men might have done who had undergone this in a dream. (ON REPENTANCE AND DEFEATING DESPAIR, pp 29-31)

11244938273_94e127c81c_w[Chrysostom wants to be clear that the 3 Youths were actually thrown in flames that should have burned them alive. What Nebuchadnezzar witnessed was no vision or dream – this in Chrysostom’s opinion is a much greater miracle. The soldiers throwing the youths into the furnace are themselves burned by the flames which reveals the reality rather than a virtual reality.  God does not stop the fire from raging, but only prevents the fire from hurting the youths so they could royally process out of the furnace. The king’s intentions are totally refuted.  He had ordered the youths executed because they refused to reverence or even pay attention to his constructed image/idol. But in the end no one pays any attention to the king at all because they all are enamored by the Three Youths. The youths experienced the flames as if in a dream but they really were rescued by God – it was no vision.]

The Prophet Haggai and The Temple of God

2nd Temple

Haggai (commemorated today by the Orthodox Church) prophesied about the Jerusalem Temple and its predicted restoration, yet his prophecy is understood by Christians traditionally in a spiritual sense for the Temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. This event fed the Christian understanding that the Temple is spiritual and living and not a building or complex in a city on earth built with stone and mortar. Haggai said: 

Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.’” (Haggai 2:4-9) 


Haggai understood God to be prophesying about the Jerusalem Temple. But prophecies are often enigmatic and their fulfillment sometimes takes place in unexpected ways. The prophets saw in part, or in a shadow and did not necessarily see clearly what God was revealing but were rather pointing out to the people to look more deeply into what God is doing for God does work in mysterious ways, even when God reveals what He is intending and doing. With the destruction of the Second Temple in 70AD, that building was not further glorified by God as might have been believed from Haggai’s prophecy. Christianity watching the events unfold came to understand these prophecies as having a spiritual meaning. St Paul claimed that Christians themselves (individually and collectively are the Temple – see for example 1 Corinthians 3:16-17). The Evangelist John says Christ in referring to the temple spoke of the temple of his body – in other words Christ spoke as if He was the temple (John 2:18-22).


Through history the Christians developed feasts referencing the Temple, but seeing both Christ and the Theotokos as having superseded the Temple (Feast of the Meeting of Christ in the Temple and the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple). Perhaps even more jarring is Revelation 21:22 which reads: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” Revelation makes numerous references to the temple, but in the end says that building known as the temple will be no more for God Himself and the Lamb are the temple in the eternal heaven and a building is no longer needed. 


Being Rich in Good Deeds 


Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19) 


Though Americans love prosperity and love to live in the wealthiest nation in the world, St Paul certainly has some misgivings about the ethical value of wealth and what it does to those who possess it.  While many think wealth is surely a sign of God’s favor, the Scriptures are clear that not only does God not always choose the wealthiest to do His will, God is known to favor the poor in His love for humankind (for example see Luke 1:51-53). Christians in America might better focus on America being the richest nation in terms of charity and good works rather than just the financially wealthiest nation on earth.   


St Paul advocates not for being rich but for being rich in generosity, mercy, compassion and charity.  His words, and really the message of the Gospels had a profound impact on the Roman Empire. As the Empire became more Christian, the Gospel message about wealth began to penetrate all social levels of the Empire including the Royal family.  The Byzantines in their embrace of the Christian message looked to the empress to model a proper attitude toward wealth.  Clement of Alexandria said: 

‘If one is faithful and surveys the magnificence of God’s love of mankind,’ surely she will ‘use wealth rightly, so it ministers to righteousness; for if you use it wrongly, it is found to be a minister of wrong.’ 


The theologian Origen (ca 185-ca 254), who also taught in  Alexandria, provided encouragement for the philanthropic dimension in religious life by describing Jesus as the Logos Philanthropos and teaching that the loving influence of Christ inspires profound transformation in the human character, so that each in turn themselves become humanitarians and philanthropists. Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria (ca 296-373) wrote that love for mankind is a principle motive of God for the incarnation, for ‘our transgression called forth the loving-kindness of the Word that the Lord should both make haste to help us and appear among men.’ He taught that the loving attitude of God demands that we generously emulate it in our relationships with one another. The commandment of the Lord exhorts the faithful, especially those of substantial means, to humanitarian concern and philanthropy for the poor and needy, and for widows, strangers and orphans. 


The wisdom of the Cappadocian Fathers may have been influential to succeeding generations of the Byzantine imperial family as well, particularly the women closest to the throne. Basil the Great (ca 330-ca 379) taught that by philanthropic generosity, ‘God will welcome thee, angels will laud thee, mankind from the very beginning will call thee blessed. For thy stewardship of these corruptible things thy reward shall be glory everlasting, a crown of righteousness, the heavenly kingdom;’ since, after all, ‘the grace of good works returns to the giver. Thou hast given to the poor, and the gift becomes thine own, and comes back with increase.’  (V.K. McCarty, FROM THEIR LIPS,  pp 160-161)


Tempting Yet Fleeting Wealth 


Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:6-11) 


St Paul would no doubt recommend against playing the lottery for he sees such wealth as being too tempting and leading people to losing their moral compass not to mention their soul. Wealth according to Paul is fleeting, and better to pursue godliness and flee the temptations of wealth. Yet, he recognizes the allurement of wealth is great and mesmerizes people so that they lose their minds/souls in pursuit of it. 

The fleetingness of wealth is that it belongs only to this world – we neither bring any wealth into the world with us when we are born and we take none out when we die and depart from this life. Wealth is thus tempting for those who are living mostly for this world rather than for life in the world to come. It is temptingly wonderful in this world, but then this world is only a small part of our lives and of the cosmos, and this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31). 


St Paul argues we should treat wealth not as some eternal or permanent good, but something belonging only to the fallen world. If we can use it wisely and in a godly way that is good, but it also presents many temptations to lead us astray (and no doubt many would say, I am willing to risk those temptations!).  

St Ambrose of Milan building upon Paul’s words says: 

Earth was established in common for all, rich and poor alike. Nature, which begets every one poor, knows no wealthy for we are not born with clothing or begotten with gold and silver. Naked, it brings us into the light, wanting food, clothing, drink, and naked the earth receives us whom it brought forth, not knowing how to compass our possessions in the tomb. (FROM THEIR LIPS, p 163)


St Herman of Alaska 


Today the Orthodox Church commemorates the life of St Herman of Alaska.

His great object in life was to help and uplift the native Aleuts, whom he regarded as mere children in need of protection and guidance. He was ever pleading for them with the officers of the Russian-American company. ‘I, the lowest servant of these poor people,’ he wrote to Yanovsky, ‘with tears in my eyes ask this favor: be our father and protector. I have no fine speeches to make, but from the bottom of my heart I pray you to wipe the tears from the eyes of the defenseless orphans, relieve the suffering of the oppressed, and show them what it means to be merciful.’

[St Herman’s regarding the Aluets as mere children is a common paternalistic attitude of many European colonialists of his day regarding native Americans. For some today, this attitude is very condescending and led to abuse of the native people. Many native Americans were unprepared to deal with the attitudes, prejudices and values of the Europeans and so were often manipulated, cheated and abused because they didn’t understand the rules and paradigms by which the Europeans lived.  Whether Herman’s attitude was simply paternalistic colonial or not (or maybe it was only the view of whoever wrote his bio), in his life he did demonstrate a Christian love for the native Americans which they themselves acknowledged.  He also went to their defense against the powerful Russian traders and nationalists, who Herman criticized and condemned for abusing and cheating the native Americans.]


Father Herman was a nurse of the natives in a literal as well as a figurative sense. When an epidemic broke out in Kodiak and carried off scores of people, he never left the village, but went from house to house, nursing the sick, comforting the afflicted and praying with the dying. It is no wonder that the natives loved him and came from afar to hear him tell the story of Christ.


One day the captain and officers of a Russian man-of-war invited Father Herman on board to dine with them. In the course of the conversation he put this question to them: ‘What do you, gentleman, regard as most worthy of love?’ Each answered in his own way. Finally Father Herman said: ‘Let me beseech you, my friends, that from this day forth, from this hour, from this minute, you will love God above all.’  (THE TIME OF THE SPIRIT, p 71)


[One comment on the saints who are especially noted for their works of charity and for being merciful. Their icons should show them in relationship to these poor and needy for their holiness and godliness is in relationship to these people around them and from their loving action towards those in need, rather than being some private spiritual possession which icons of a saint alone can convey. Their salvation is in the very people they helped.  Portraying saints alone in icons feeds, especially in the very individualistic American culture, a notion that one is holy as distinct from all those around you or that salvation is a private and individualistic affair, just between you and God. But the Gospel is all about love for the other, not love for the self. Icons could help us understand Christianity better if they showed the saints in relationship to those who were their salvation. Thus, the notion expressed by some saints that your neighbor is your salvation for you cannot be saved unless you are loving your neighbor. St Herman is especially noted for his love for the native people of Alaska. It is in relationship to them that he is shown to be a saint, and so they should be in his icons since they help show him be holy. Even our fasting is supposed to be connected with our love for others rather than a private, pious practice. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7) There is no such thing as salvation “alone” for we are always saved in relationship to Christ and to all the members of His Body.]